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Archive for April 20th, 2009

Every time I think everyone has gotten over the ridiculous question of whether writing is an art or a craft, someone else pops up to argue.  On the one side, you have people who claim writing is art.  They’re the same people who believe you can’t plan things out or radically alter the mechanics of a novel.  The people who think you have to be born to write.  The people who think you have to have a muse or some otherworldly inspiration.  On the other side are people who claim that writing is like plumbing.  Hook the pipes up properly and the water goes here.  (Jim Butcher used that very metaphor.)  These are the people who think you can plan everything, that there is no subconscious at work, no underlying themes, just story.

And then there are the people like me, who very vividly recall that summer camp activity called Arts and Crafts.  Arts AND Crafts.  Not Arts OR Crafts.  AND.

Lovely AND Practical

Lovely AND Practical

When I was a child, my family occasionally vacationed in New Mexico, where we made several visits to the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The chapel is famous for a spiral staircase  built in 1878.  The staircase is remarkable for several reasons: it’s beautiful and it was a late addition to a church whose blueprints contained no means to get from the ground floor to the upper floor. (Oops!)  Beyond those two minor things, the staircase has no central supporting post.  It is made entirely of wood (pegs were used instead of nails) and makes two full 360 turns as it ascends from the chapel to the choir loft.

Hard work is the unmiracle

Hard work is the unmiracle

Over the years, many people have mistakenly concluded that the staircase is a “miracle,” because of its unique design.  This is silly, of course, as are most claims of miracles.  I guess it’s just easier to say, “Miracle!” than it is to do a little research and put your ignorance to rest.  From an engineering standpoint, the staircase is perfectly sensible.  The narrowness of the stairs actually allow them to serve as their own spiral support structure.  That the stairs can be explained by other than miraculous means in no way diminishes their elegance.

The design is unusual and striking.  The carpenter who built them was gifted, not only in his ability to imagine such a staircase but in his ability to execute the design.  The construction took both artistry and craftsmanship.

Just like writing.  It requires both  vision and  skills.  One without the other is a dead end.  The staircase in the Loretto Chapel has stood for over a hundred years and will likely last another hundred.  (There are so few termites in arid New Mexico.)  The same is true of good writing.  If it is both practical and lovely, a joy to read and well-built, it will endure after the person who wrote it is dead.

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